In battle for Kirinyaga, Waiguru faces off with Wangui Ngirici
In December last year, a matatu hit a boda boda on the Sagana-Kagio road, injuring a few people.
A normal accident on a rural road, you could say, so nothing much to say about it in a national daily.
And you would be right, but also wrong, because the events following it were abnormal, if not tragicomic.
A few minutes after the crash, two ambulances showed up at the scene; one branded “Ngirici Rescue Team” and the other “County Government of Kirinyaga”.
The Ngirici van beat the county government one to the scene and ferried the injured to hospital. Bad move.
County government officials, led by Deputy Governor Peter Ndambiri, chased after the ambulance to Kerugoya Referral Hospital.
At stake was credit for who had responded to the plight of the accident victims first, and here, in the lush of Kirinyaga where tea farms wrap around hills like towels on torsos, it is bad manners to upstage the county government.
Accident rescue is part of the county administration’s core mandate, and the Ngirici team was playing dirty.
This, therefore, was not a rescue mission, but a political campaign arena. Ngirici—1, County Government of Kirinyaga—0.
Sad as it may appear, this drama on the narrow, winding road from Sagana to Kagio illustrates the battle for the political soul of Kirinyaga between Governor Anne Waiguru and Woman Representative Wangui Ngirici.
It has been simmering quietly since the height of political campaigns last year, and came to the fore last week when the governor was heckled in her turf during a function attended by Deputy President William Ruto.
It rekindles the 1970s war between Kirinyaga supremos James Njiru and Nahashon Njuno, who were MPs for Ndia and Gichugu, respectively.
Ms Waiguru is from Gichugu while Ms Ngirici is from Kirinyaga Central, which was carved out from Ndia.
But it was not always like this. When Ms Waiguru announced her intentions to run for governorship, Mrs Ngirici, then a flamboyant trader known more for her philanthropy than political barbs, introduced Ms Waiguru to political mobilisers at an event in Kerugoya.
At the time, Mrs Ngirici was riding a crest of popularity for her philanthropic work and opposition to the policies of then Governor Joseph Ndathi.
But the two fiery grande dames of Kirinyaga fell out a few weeks before the Jubilee Party primaries, in which Ms Ngirici secured the ticket for the county woman representative’s seat and Ms Waiguru the governor’s. So, what went wrong?
“The governor became high-handed in dealing with other leaders,” Ms Ngirici told the Nation earlier this week.
Ms Waiguru did not respond to our questions on the specific allegations against her by Ms Ngirici by the time we went to press.
“There was no suitable environment for cooperation,” Ms Ngirici continued.
But those close to Ms Waiguru see it differently.
“Her style [of leadership] is different,” Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru said.
“She prefers delegating to county executives instead of handling everything, and sometimes that rubs people who would rather deal with her directly the wrong way.”
Mr Kibiru says the personalities of the two leaders have only made a bad situation worse.
“They are like day and night. One is a technocrat and a go-getter; the other a populist with good grassroots mobilisation skills who also wants to have her way,” the senator said.
And he could be right on the money because, while Ms Waiguru has been schooled in the corridors of corporate bureaucracy and diplomacy, Mrs Ngirici is a shrewd, highly effective political mobiliser with the right family connections.
Her husband, Andrew, controls the late chief spy James Kanyotu’s multibillion-shilling empire.
What he lacks in finesse, he compensates for with his deep pockets, adulatory mobilisation, and the ruthlessness of a hungry tiger on a hunt.
He is the self-styled chairman of the local boda boda association, through which he can mobilise youth on short notice.
Both Senator Kibiru and Kirinyaga Assembly Majority Leader James Kamau Murango also attribute the clash of the two bigwigs to the current wave of presidential succession politics, which introduces Mr Ruto into the heady mix.
“Each wants to be the point woman for Mr Ruto in the county,” Mr Murango said, “and discrediting Ms Waiguru helps the Woman Representative”.
In a case filed at the High Court, Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua has also blamed Mr Ruto for losing the gubernatorial seat to Ms Waiguru, saying he instructed the police to rig her out.
Mr Murango also accuses Ms Ngirici of plotting to replace the governor in 2022, or even earlier. She denies the claims.
“Only God knows whether I will be alive then, so I cannot start talking about 2022,” she said.
And then, in that calculated sting that has become her trademark political weapon, she chooses the next words carefully as she delivers the death blow:
“Mr Ruto knows who he wants to work with, and I do not know why some people feel like they are the chosen ones.”
WAR OF WORDS
The cause of the rift notwithstanding, the infighting in Kirinyaga is being fought in stadiums, or roadsides, in churches, in courts, on the vast expanse of the Internet, and in the streets.
Ms Waiguru, who has largely avoided public confrontations with Ms Ngirici, dropped her guard for a few seconds last Sunday when her nemesis turned up the decibels.
“Some people should not mistake my silence for weakness,” she warned, the message directed to no one in particular, but the unnamed target requiring no public introduction.
“They should also not dig holes that are too deep because they can also fall in them.”
“Threats will not work,” Ms Ngirici shot back. “I am very quiet and do not do a lot of public relations, but I am politically lethal.”
She however was being economical with the truth, because she has set up a Mike Sonko-type rescue team.
She also runs a foundation that is providing water and first aid services to the communities here, subsidises funeral costs, and holds medical camps for the needy.
She has also invested in road equipment and can carve out a road through scrubland within hours. To some, she is a godsend. To others, terror personified.
“It is a gang!” Mr Murango said of the Ngirici Rescue Team.
“And it was used to heckle the governor. Instead of financing youths through tokenism, Ms Ngirici should look for self-sustaining, long-term projects for the community.”
He is referring to the projects launched by the governor in recent days, which include an urban renewal project that will lead to building of cabro-parking bays in major towns and upgrading of roads in the county.
Ms Waiguru has also formulated a blueprint for the county that identifies areas for growth, including mountain cities, and has lobbied for national government projects like intra-county roads, revamping of health services, and equipping of hospitals.
She has also accused Ms Ngirici of hiring goons to heckle her in Mr Ruto’s presence.
The Woman Representative denies the claims, and has said she is contemplating suing the governor for defamation.